The Up-Turn Presents: A Conversation With Spirit Spine

When I asked Joseph Denney, brainchild behind the up and coming act Spirit Spine, if he wanted to do an interview, I don’t think either of us were expecting for the talk to be a genuine conversation and less a formal interview.  Over skype we talked for nearly two hours sharing music tastes, talking about our favorites and about how the internet has let us young people get our ideas out there.  It was a awesome talk for both of us and obviously I had to cut a lot from the conversation to keep it relatively short and filled with the real information that we shared.  Since we chatted over skype chat we weren’t using our best grammar and all of that has been left unedited.  Check out the full interview after the jump.

Peter Kelly: so I guess a pretty basic question I have is just how did you get started with the project?  When did you start recording music?

Joseph: i started when i got my macbook right before i went to college. before that i had a digital 8-track recorder. i couldnt even do loops on that. if i wanted to play something over and over, i really had to play it over and over. but i got my laptop and it had garageband and so that’s when i started playing witht he synths and recording stuff and making songs. i have a copy of logic express on my macbook but i still don’t know how to work it. i still make everything in garageband. ive tried to work logic express (i just tried again a couple days ago) and i still can’t figure out how to chop up samples. so far though there hasn’t been anything that ive wanted to do that I can’t do in Garageband. I know that program in and out (not that’s it’s very hard to).

Peter Kelly: oh wow, so Glossalia was made all on garageband?

Joseph: Yeah! I found some free audio effect plugins online that worked in Garageband, but other than that, everything was in that program. After using it for a couple of years, it’s really easy to know how to make the sounds you want it to. There are probably easier ways of doing things in other programs that I did in Garageband, but I got the same sound out of it so it’s all good. Girl Talk uses a really basic program to make his albums and people have told him that he should use Ableton Live or soemthing like that but he’s like “But I can already do what I want to with this program.” It’s just about using whatever’s comfortable.

Peter Kelly: For sure as long as your making good music it really doesn’t matter what you use.  I mean Guided By Voices made amazing albums using pretty terrible recording devices.  I know you cited MBV and Boards of Canada as influences that I can definitely hear, but what were some of the bands that you were raised listening to?

Joseph: Growing up I didn’t listen to that much music. My dad is a huge Elvis and Johnny Cash fan so I listened to those compilations a ton on family vacations. I didn’t buy my first CD until I was 10 and even then it was Astro Lounge by Smash Mouth. I first started listening to the music I listen to now like, Sophomore year in high school. That was the same time I discovered how to get music off the internet too. Anyway, my friend Barton was listening to Smashing Pumpkins and The White Stripes and he got me onto those bands and then it just kind went on from there. Like, it went from The White Stripes to that whole garage-rock scene with The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs and then every band associated with them and so on and so forth.

Peter Kelly: Yeah, definitely.  Your album definitely has a shoegaze/dream-pop feel to it so I’m guessing some of those bands left good impressions on you. Galaxie 500 and Beach House are personal favorites of mine.

Joseph: I really like Beach House, but Galaxie 500 is still on my “To-Get-Into” list. which album should i start with from Galaxie 500?

Peter Kelly: Well Today has some of their classic songs: ‘Tugboat’, ‘Flowers’ and ‘Parking Lot’ are all amazing tracks.

Joseph: listening to Tugboat right now. Really liking it. I realized before I made Glossolalia that I tend to make music that sounds similar to whatever I’m listening to at the time so I made a mix and just played that constantly in order to trick my brain into thinking in those musical terms, Grouper and MBV of course had tracks in there

Peter Kelly: Nice, what’s it like being a solo artist in college?  Have you done any live performances?

Joseph: I like it. I have a lot of free time and so music is what I’m doing most of the time. I think college is the perfect time to be making music, at least for me, just because you kind of get four years to do whatever before you go out into the real world. I did a lot of live performances during my first 2 albums, but I haven’t for this newest album since it would have been a little hard to replicate the sounds on the album and I didn’t want to have to play to backing tracks. I’d still like to play live though, and I might during the summer, but it’d be super low-key ambient versions of the songs.

Peter Kelly: As a college student has the attention you’ve been gaining surprised you? Did you ever think that making music would be something that you would really pursue?

Joseph: It’s definitely been a little weird since I never thought people with music blogs would ever care to write about something going on in Indiana, but that’s what the Internet’s for I guess. I think there’s a  point anytime someone’s making music though where they kinda just daydream about what itd be like to get to do it all day and all night for a living and not have to worry about paying the bills.

Peter Kelly: So the album has a story that is outlined in the bandcamp.  Where did you get the inspiration to make it a narative?

Joseph: Well since the first little ep I made I’ve found that I work better when there’s a story to work against. I already had the idea to move away from electronic stuff and play a lot of acoustic guitar so the desert seemed like the best setting for that. the narrative itself came from a combination of books on atheism and the Planet Earth special on the desert. I thought of the album as an imaginary film so each song is supposed to represent a part of that film.

[A little more chatting brought us to the subject of lists]

Joseph: I really like making lists and so I’ve actually made a top 10 of all time. I even made an iTunes playlist of them. They’re just albums I can go to anytime and listen through the whole thing.

Loveless by My Bloody Valentine

Person Pitch by Panda Bear

Unstoppable by Girl Talk

Sound of Silver by LCD Soundsystem

Since I Left You by The Avalanches

Donuts by J Dilla

Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill by Grouper

Is This It? by The Strokes

Illinois by Sufjan Stevens

Elephant by The White Stripes

Peter Kelly: Bringing things back in a little, what do you want to do with the future of Spirit Spine?  Do you see yourself pursuing more of a band with multiple people or do you want to stay a solo artist?

Joseph: I’m really comfortable just staying a solo artist. It’s easier that way because you never have to coordinate your schedule in with someone else’s or have to worry about stepping on other people’s toes. There are some songs though that I wouldn’t playing with a band though. I’ve got 2 more albums in mind that I want to make and then about halfway through any album I’m working on I already know the kind of album I want to make next. Future-wise I’d really like to go on a real, travel state-to-state tour. Stylistically I don’t see those albums fitting in with anything I’ve done so far, but Beck’s discography is all over the place and he’s done pretty well so far. I just get bored with one sound or concept quickly. I’d love to play in a band still. I played in the church worship band in high school and I loved playing guitar there. I got to pretend I was Jonny Greenwood.

Peter Kelly: are there any things that you might want to give a plug to?  Other bands? Future projects?

Joseph: I’m really digging Dirty Beaches right now. That guy looks so badass. I love the band Candy Claws. They came to Bloomington and I got to meet them and they were all really awesome. I got them to autograph my copy and I felt like I was 10 years old even though I’m the same age as them.

Peter Kelly: haha that’s awesome! Terry (the other writer for the blog) might get to meet James Murphy soon

Joseph: I’m terrible at meeting people like that. I got to talk to Dean Spunt from No Age and all I said was “That was really good.” and then I walked away. Everytime: Dan Deacon, Wayne Coyne, Weird Al, Lockett Pundt. I’m really weird and I say like one sentence that’s kind of relevant, and then it’s followed by awkwardly walking away. “Hi James Murphy. I put your album in my top 10” “Oh, cool” “Yeah…bye!”

Peter Kelly: Well I guess, anything else you want to say?

Joseph: Ummm, nah. It’s pretty late for me too. Got work in the morning. I’m a campus tour guide. This was a good chat. Favorite interview I’ve ever done.

Peter Kelly: haha yeah I like when things are more conversational than interview style

Joseph: More interviews should be like this.

Agreed.  And I just saw on Spirit Spine’s facebook page that from now on all profit made from Glossolalia will be donated to Japan!  Which is even more reason to go pick up the album (which is streaming below).  And definitely watch out for more Spirit Spine in the future…

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-PK

pkelly94The Up-Turn Presents: A Conversation With Spirit Spine